Rania Khalek Dispatches from the Underclass

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For this week’s “Unauthorized Disclosure” podcast, hosts Rania Khalek and Kevin Gosztola are joined by Mark Ames, a journalist and co-host of the Radio War Nerd podcast. Ames also is the co-author of “The Exile: Sex, Drugs, and Libel in the New Russia” and “Going Postal: Rage, Murder, and Rebellion from Reagan’s Workplaces to Clinton’s Columbine and Beyond.” He worked on a satirical publication that was shut down by the Kremlin.

Ames talks about the history of the United States government’s meddling in Russia, especially how the government backed Boris Yeltsin to lead the country. He addresses the frenzy over President Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin and the complete lack of evidence of any conspiracy. He also discusses Putin and who he is as a leader and how it is ridiculous to suggest Putin is similar to Trump.

“Yeltsin was our man. We over and over boasted that everything that was going on in the ’90s was thanks to us. It was basically a colonial project,” Ames declares during the show. He says when he arrived in Russia the country believed in what the U.S. was trying to do. By the time he left, the U.S. had so “utterly destroyed” Russia that any goodwill toward America was ruined for the foreseeable future.

On the notions that Russia had anything to do with electing Trump, “I just think this is the craziest thing. I wasn’t here throughout most of the lead-up to the Iraq War, but I just remember seeing some of it and thinking this country’s lost its marbles, and they’re all kind of whipping each other into this sort of mob hysteria frenzy about something and trying to do outdo each other with more scary and lurid stories that are headed to some sort of disaster. And no one is holding back.”

“I keep thinking we’ve hit peak Russia hysteria. There’s just no fire still at the center of this smoke so it’s got to just blow away. It’s got to be over with, and then it gets a new level of crazy,” Ames shares.

The reason why this is happening is the liberal establishment, in particular, was rejected in the 2016 Election. “They lost, and they can’t handle it. It’s not uncommon that you look for an outside enemy, that you turn to some kind of xenophobia and conspiracy theory to account for it because otherwise you’ll have to say it’s my fault, it’s our fault. We screwed up.”

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Hosts Rania Khalek and Kevin Gosztola are joined by Patrick Cockburn, a longtime Middle East correspondent well-known for his coverage of Iraq and Syria. He is the author of The Age of Jihad: Islamic State and the Great War for the Middle East.

Cockburn addresses the destruction of Mosul, the rise of Sunni fundamentalism, the role of Turkey in Iraq and Syria, and President Donald Trump and his potential plans for aggression toward Iran.

“I think it’s going to [ISIS] will suffer a defeat in Mosul,” Cockburn says. “Obviously, that’s a big defeat for ISIS because capturing Mosul in June 2014 was its first great victory. That’s when it declared the caliphate. That’s when it advanced on Baghdad and took most of eastern Syria, but I don’t think it will put it entirely out of business.”

Cockburn describes a point he has made about the lack of winners in protracted wars in the Middle East.

“In the past, when one was studying wars at school or at university, they would have a beginning and ending date. But that’s not true of these wars. Why is this happening? Well, I think states have been overthrown,” Cockburn suggests.

On Trump, Cockburn contends in Iraq and Syria the policies continuing under Trump were President Barack Obama’s policies. Policy, however, seems to have changed in Yemen. The State Department seems willing to drop pretense of restraint against sending guided munitions to Saudi Arabia to step up attacks on al Qaeda (which are units fighting the Houthi rebels, which the United States-backed coalition is also fighting).

During the discussion, Gosztola discusses a trip to New Zealand, and later, Gosztola and Khalek talk about Trump’s proposed budget and the GOP’s healthcare plan.

To listen to the episode, click the above player or go here.

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Hosts Rania Khalek and Kevin Gosztola discuss the campaign against Khalek, which led to the cancellation of her speaking event at the University of North Carolina. She also discusses Salafism and Wahhabism, extreme right-wing ideologies within Islam that are pretty modern. She experienced a bit of a backlash for comments she made on these two ideologies.

The discussion veers into a discussion of U.S. empire and how the government has aligned itself with right-wing Islamic extremists in countries like Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria. It all relates to the smears Khalek has had to confront because a faction of people—pro-regime change in Syria—have committed themselves to silencing her voice.

*No guest this week.

To listen to the episode, click the above player or go here.

Contrary to popular media portrayals, the Middle East wasn’t always plagued by regressive fundamentalism. Salafi jihadist groups like Al Qaeda were not popular in the region. They still aren’t. They have been violently imposed on people thanks in large part to the actions of the US, which has a longstanding pattern of backing religious fundamentalists to further its geopolitical ambitions.

As far back as the 1950s, the CIA teamed up with the Muslim Brotherhood, then backed by Saudi Arabia, to weaken secular Arab nationalism and communism.

The most significant chapter in the US-Islamist love affair came in the 1980s, when the US armed the Mujahedeen to bleed the Soviet Union in Afghanistan. It was the largest and longest running covert operation in US history. People like Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, an Osama bin Laden associate whose claim to fame was splashing acid in the faces of unveiled schoolgirls at Kabul University, were the top recipients of CIA funds.

After the Soviet Union fell, the American-armed Mujahedeen groups morphed into Al Qaeda and the Taliban. Not long after that, Al Qaeda pulled off an attack that killed 3,000 people in New York City and its existence has been invoked to justify endless war and the curtailing of civil liberties ever since. (Afghanistan, where the US is still at war, remains the world’s second largest producer of refugees.)

The US played a similarly dirty game in Syria over the last six years. By knowingly arming rebel groups linked to Al Qaeda to weaken the Syrian government, the US created the world’s greatest refugee crisis since World War Two, which fueled the resurgent far right in the west and helped get Trump elected. I go into great detail about this topic in a recent piece I wrote for Alternet. Check it out here.

In September, during a private meeting at the state department, I expressed frustration about the US allowing Saudi Arabia to spread its toxic Wahhabi ideology, which serves as a primary inspiration for Salafi jihadist groups like Al Qaeda and ISIS, around the world. Before I could finish, a senior level official in the department of near eastern affairs interrupted me to defend the Saudis.

“Saudi Arabia isn’t exporting terrorism, they’re exporting religion and we can’t get into the business of policing religion. It’s a free speech issue,” said the official. “The Saudis are a very important geostrategic ally. And they are changing. They’ve worked very hard to reform their textbooks,” the official added.

The official then brought up the jihadist textbooks printed by the US and disseminated to Afghan school children in refugee camps in Pakistan in the 1980s. The textbooks encouraged violence against infidels, communists and the Soviet Union in the name of Islam and helped inculcate an entire generation. These US-printed textbooks can still be found in in Taliban-run schools today.

The senior state department official insisted that in the end printing them was “worth it” because “we got rid of the Soviet Union.”

The official’s response was reminiscent of former US National Security advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski, one of the architects of the US policy to arm the Afghan mujahedeen. Asked in 1998 if he regretted supporting Islamic fundamentalists, Brzezinski replied, “What is most important to the history of the world? The Taliban or the collapse of the Soviet empire? Some stirred-up Muslims or the liberation of central Europe and the end of the cold war?”

This sort of thinking continues to dominate the foreign policy establishment’s approach to the region with ever more disastrous consequences.

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Hosts Rania Khalek and Kevin Gosztola kick off a new season of the “Unauthorized Disclosure” podcast with guest Abby Martin, host of “The Empire Files.” She joins the show for the entire episode. Martin discusses how a show she anchored for RT America was mentioned in the recent intelligence report on Russian hacking.

We discuss the deep state’s push to increase aggressive action against Russia, and whether that is good if we all truly believe Donald Trump is erratic. We talk about where RT America fits in the media landscape and how we need to focus on media literacy. And we talk about liberal delusions about America’s history of meddling in democracies and supporting dictatorships because Trump will not be the first president to normalize this — at all.

To listen to the podcast episode, go here. The episode can also be downloaded from iTunes.

I’ve been reading through old coverage of the war in Afghanistan in the 1980s, when the US armed the religious extremists of the mujahideen against the Soviets. The parallels to the biased coverage of the war in Syria are striking, especially with regard to the romanticization of Islamist rebels. Many of the journalistic shortcomings documented in this New York Times article from 1990 are found in today’s biased reporting on Syria:

From 1980 until late 1986, few American journalists were allowed to visit Kabul or any other Government-held area, which meant that coverage of the war was left primarily to reporters working from the rebel side. Those venturing into the war zones carried back powerful accounts of the rebels’ struggle, and of the destructiveness of the forces they faced. But it was inevitable that over the years, what Americans learned of the conflict came increasingly to reflect the rebel viewpoint; whatever balance access to the other side would have offered was lost.

In addition, much of the Afghan reporting available to Americans came from resident freelancers, many of them relatively inexperienced. The result was that strong bonds often developed between those covering the conflict and the rebels. Many of the reporters became identified with a particular rebel group, usually the one that arranged their journeys ”inside.” Too often, abuses by these groups went unreported, or at least underplayed.

In Peshawar’s American Club, reporters skeptical of an approach that celebrated the rebels’ virtues encountered ostracism. One visitor, Mary Williams Walsh of The Wall Street Journal, had her entry to the club ”suspended” after reporting sardonically on the rebel boosterism she found. Later, after The New York Post ran a series of stories alleging that the CBS Evening News had used faked film footage in some of its reporting on rebel attacks, Ms. Walsh, who had done much of the initial reporting on that story, became a focus for renewed hostility. When in the fall of 1989 word of her departure from the Journal reached the American Club, some of the freelancers involved called for drinks all round.

Such attitudes did not encourage evenhanded reporting. Little attention was given, for example, to the involvement of rebel commanders in the opium traffic, though it had been known in Peshawar for years. Nor, until his murderous attacks on other rebel groups attracted Washington’s condemnation in 1989, did the Peshawar-based reporters – or American diplomats – pay much attention to the sinister nature of Mr. Hekmatyar, the dominant figure among the rebel leaders and the recipient, for years, of the lion’s share of American money and weapons. But stories had long circulated in Kabul and Peshawar of how, as a Kabul student leader during the early 1970’s, he had dispatched followers to throw vials of acid into the faces of women students who refused to wear veils.

Such selective reporting extended to the war itself. When in November 1988 the rebels executed more than 70 Government officers and men after they had surrendered at Torkham, the story was missed by many Peshawar-based American reporters. And there was little coverage in the United States, either, of massacres that occured in areas taken by the rebels, not even when Western human-rights groups offered well-documented accounts, as they did after the rebels engaged in a frenzy of rape and pillage in Kunduz in late 1988.

On this week’s “Unauthorized Disclosure” podcast, journalist Rania Khalek talks a bit about what she has learned while reporting in Syria. Khalek also addresses the smear attacks on her reputation, which led to her resignation from an editorial position at Electronic Intifada. It has impacted her ability to convince media outlets to publish her work while she is in Lebanon to cover stories in Syria and other nearby countries.

Khalek became an easy target because she does not view the Syrian war as a conflict between good and bad forces. She treats the war with a level of nuance and complexity that deeply upsets Syrian opposition groups, who want the world to romanticize them even as they, too, commit war crimes. When she was listed on the program of a conference, where pro-government perspectives would feature prominently, she was hit with a deluge of questions and innuendothat completely ignored the fact that she was not the only journalist going to the conference. Khalek goes into more detail during this week’s show.

In the latter half of the show, we highlight Dakota Access Pipeline resistance and the police assault on water protectors that occurred about one week ago. (Note: The show was recorded on November 25, hours before the Army Corps of Engineers issued an eviction notice to the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. So that unfortunately goes unaddressed.)

Khalek and Kevin Gosztola also slam pundits who think Donald Trump is now acting “presidential,” and they address the progressive dishonesty toward Bernie Sanders just about any time he talks about the concepts of race and class and focuses on material conditions for working and middle class people instead of identity.

The latest episode is available on iTunes. To listen to the episode (and also to download the episode), go here. A page will load with the audio file of the interview that will automatically play.

The following is a partial transcript of Rania Khalek’s remarks on the show about her reporting trip to Syria: Read More

For this week’s “Unauthorized Disclosure” podcast, Rania Khalek returns as co-host to process how to handle all the fear, panic, and uncertainty created by the presidential election of Donald Trump.

We assess what needs to be fought immediately. Kevin Gosztola suggests the Dakota Access pipeline and return of the Keystone XL pipeline will need to face resistance.

“Climate change is probably the most important to organize and push back against. This is going to require people putting their bodies on the line,” Khalek adds. And Gosztola suggests we will need to support not just journalists charged with felonies but all people who are taking action to stop a “moral calamity from taking place,” especially in local communities defending indigenous land from destruction by fossil fuel extraction.

Khalek shares her concern that the backing of Republican mega-donor Sheldon Adelson and the people Trump is surrounding himself means it is time to worry about a Trump administration bombing Iran. “There is going to have to be some resurgence in antiwar activism because that would be another moral calamity.”

Then, domestically, Khalek says we have to support immigrant communities facing the threat of deportation and support organizations that defend them as well. We have to encourage resistance to any efforts to ban Muslims as well.

Lots of people in the United States are looking for ways they can plug in to stop Trump. Media organizations and nonprofit organizations, like the ACLU, have seen an incredible surge in donations. In that vein, Khalek and Gosztola suggest you support their journalism if you want something tangible and immediate to do. Khalek is raising money for a series of articles on the war in Syria. Gosztola runs Shadowproof, and the organization is consistently eager to have new members join. (Anyone who donates $5/month receives a tote bag.)

During the show, the hosts also confront the reality that the last eight years of Democrats, including President Barack Obama’s administration, laid the groundwork for a lot of what Trump plans to do.

It should serve as a warning, Khalek declares. “Even when your team does something bad or your team takes power that nobody should have, just because you trust the person who is currently president and occupying the White House doesn’t mean it is going to stay that way forever. You always have to remember whatever powers they take, the next Donald Trump gets to use.”

The latest episode is available on iTunes. To listen to the episode (and also to download the episode), go here. A page will load with the audio file of the interview that will automatically play.

Internal United Nations assessments obtained by The Intercept reveal that U.S. and European sanctions are punishing ordinary Syrians and crippling aid work during the largest humanitarian emergency since World War II.

The sanctions and war have destabilized every sector of Syria’s economy, transforming a once self-sufficient country into an aid-dependent nation. But aid is hard to come by, with sanctions blocking access to blood safety equipment, medicines, medical devices, food, fuel, water pumps, spare parts for power plants, and more.

In a 40-page internal assessment commissioned to analyze the humanitarian impact of the sanctions, the U.N. describes the U.S. and EU measures as “some of the most complicated and far-reaching sanctions regimes ever imposed.” Detailing a complex system of “unpredictable and time-consuming” financial restrictions and licensing requirements, the report finds that U.S. sanctions are exceptionally harsh “regarding provision of humanitarian aid.”

Read more from my report at The Intercept

For this week’s “Unauthorized Disclosure” podcast, hosts Rania Khalek and Kevin Gosztola discuss the ongoing bloodshed and war in Syria, which is not limited to Aleppo.

Khalek and Gosztola also talk about the latest unsettling development with Chelsea Manning, who the U.S. Army punished with two weeks in solitary confinement.

Later in the episode, Kevin reads a piece of election-themed satire he wrote, which quite a few people mistakenly thought was a serious column. (No guest this week.)

The 25th episode of the third season is available on iTunes. To listen to the episode (and also to download the episode), go here. A page will load with the audio file of the interview that will automatically play.